Monday, September 24, 2007

Nostalgia, Part 2

My stepfather used to drive an ice cream truck, and so a couple of times he let me come along with him as he made his rounds. There was such a feeling of wonder as we drove through the neighborhoods in Conyers, delivering ice cream to the low socioeconomic areas, knowing that the money the parents were giving the kids may have been much better used toward electricity or water. The money was used to buy a moment of happiness to the kids, and while in the past I have criticized materialism and buying love, in this instance I do think that happiness through an ice cream sandwich and a trucking ringing a bell and chugging down the road is worth it.

And as we were driving down the barely drivable road in the trailer park, I noticed that these children, mostly without AC or TV or cable or internet or whatever, played and developed and adapted, and were happy. Much happier than the suburban rich people that wind up shooting people in schools. Although I know that I could not assess the happiness of the kids in the trailer park just by one glance, I had a certain feeling of longing toward the simplicity of life that they were experiencing. Of course I know that's wrong, that they might have had to deal with things that no child should have to deal with, and that the idea of the child in the trailer park is similar to that of Russeau and his "noble savage" idea. I am a Romantic at heart, and so while I live in the 21st century in a world of technology, I long for a time more recognizable to someone like Thoreau.

If you really want to understand what I'm talking about, read Ray Bradbury's work Dandelion Wine. It's a work of pure nostalgia, and the lyricism of the language lifts that life right off the page and makes the modern world disappear. Nostalgia is such a complex emotion, because while the pleasure of thinking about living in a somewhat fictional world where things are more simple, there is also the realization that those people had to deal with hardships that our modern technologies have done away with. Some diseases, electricity, running water, bathrooms inside the house.... but also things that are not so obvious, such as having to write everything by hand, or being able to look up anything via the internet and have a decent chance of actually finding what you're looking for in about 5 minutes or less. And then there's the boredom, which is two fold, because while it did exist in "olden" times, there were always things to do, either because of endless chores (clothes and dishes had to be hand washed), or by using your imagination and play games with whatever you had around the house (unlike now, when you buy your games for the Xbox or whatever).

So when we yearn for simpler times, when we wax nostalgic, we also are admitting that those times are gone, and that something precious that we had is now lost to us. Whether it's the natural progressiveness of society, or some memory of childhood we long to regain, we have changed the way we live. The interesting thing about that is that often times, nostalgia looks back through rose-colored glasses. We see all the good times without seeing the bad. And it's painful, in some cases, to see what we have lost and then have to accept those losses, almost like losing a loved one, except it is part of ourselves that we have lost. But there still is hope that those times that we yearn for can still be recaptured, in the children that we see playing ball on the street corner, in the look on their faces as we give them ice cream from a truck with an antique bell on top, in the small towns that have somehow escaped the interstates and highways that bring such speed to modern life. Would that today's children have to claim such memories before they can move on to the world of TV and online gaming. But, I am afraid, that that childhood is rapidly disappearing (see earlier blogs), an we are becoming a society of all one memory, all one society. I am afraid that soon, the swimming holes will be empty, and the swing of bats in neighborhoods will soon fall silent. Let us hope that, in the future, when our children are studying algebra and engineering in elementary school, when school becomes something you do in front of a screen, that sometime, those children wander outdoors and unplug themselves for a moment from computers and ipods and cell phones, and find joy in the simpler things.

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